The following letter was submitted to New York State Department of Health Commissioner Howard Zucker by the component school superintendents of HFM BOCES on Monday, March 22.
Howard Zucker, M.D., J.D.
Commissioner, New York State Department of Health
Empire State Plaza
Albany, NY 12237
Dear Dr. Zucker:
The superintendents of Hamilton-Fulton-Montgomery BOCES are united in our desire to see an easing of COVID-19 classroom social distancing restrictions in line with the guidelines issued by the CDC on March 19, 2021. We also believe that a consistent application of quarantine orders should be utilized by all New York counties.
Reduce classroom social distancing standard from six feet to three feet
In addition to the CDC’s updated guidance, which reduces the classroom distancing standard from six feet to three feet, a number of other recent developments indicate that it is safe to reduce the requirement. These developments include:
- Local health departments allowing student participation in high-contact interscholastic athletics
- An increasing number faculty and staff receiving COVID-19 vaccinations
- Decreasing virus transmission in our region
During the last 12 months, the reduction of in-person learning and lack of access to other school supports have disproportionately affected economically disadvantaged students, students with disabilities, students of color, and those who do not have strong internet connectivity. It is time to return to in-person schooling for all of our students, and we ask that the minimum six foot separation rule in classrooms be reduced to three feet to allow all students to return to daily in-person instruction for the remainder of the 2020/21 school year.
The current six foot separation rule severely limits our ability to offer an optimal educational experience to students across the spectrum. Over the past year we have seen a sharp decline in attendance, engagement, performance, and growth. There is no question that our students are suffering as a result of diminished educational opportunities. We will only be able to begin to ascertain the academic, social and emotional damage done when all of our students are consistently attending school once again.
We believe students can safely return to in-person learning by applying the same standards used by counties to determine high risk sports participation with a distancing requirement set at three feet. Should a county’s positivity rate rise above 4% for a seven day rolling average, schools would revert to the six foot requirement.
Implement consistent quarantine and learning model protocols
We ask that protocols to prevent virus transmission that are suitable to the highly controlled micro-community of a school be applied uniformly. In light of the safety performance of schools, we request the following considerations:
- Adopt measured, consistent state-wide protocols to reduce unnecessary quarantines for those who share classroom space with COVID-19 positive or “probable positive” individuals. Current practices vary greatly from county to county.
- Adjust the practice of requiring whole classrooms to quarantine. The inconsistent application of quarantines has led to a tremendous loss of instructional opportunities for students in our region.
- During the 2021-22 school year, parent choice regarding learning models should only be offered once a county’s positivity rates exceeds the same 4% threshold that is applied to athletics.
Thank you for your attention to this matter. We understand that the pandemic has been extremely difficult to navigate, and we appreciate the hard work and leadership provided at the state level.
The Superintendents of Hamilton-Fulton-Montgomery BOCES
Richard Ruberti Greater Amsterdam School District
Stephen Tomlinson Broadalbin-Perth Central School District
Nick Fitzgerald Canajoharie Central School District
Michelle Ellis Edinburg Common School District
Thomas Ciaccio Fonda-Fultonville Central School District
John Bishop Fort Plain Central School District
David Halloran Gloversville Enlarged School District
William Crankshaw Greater Johnstown School District
Heather Philo Lake Pleasant Central School District
Christopher Harper Mayfield Central School District
Leslie Ford Northville Central School District
Adam Heroth Oppenheim-Ephratah-St. Johnsville Central School District
Richard Rose Piseco Common School District
Thomas Sincavage Wells Central School District
Nicole Dettenrieder Wheelerville Union Free School District
David Ziskin Hamilton-Fulton-Montgomery BOCES